Our Best and Most Lasting Gift: The Universal Features of Meditation

This is a lecture by Paul R. Fleischman, M.D. delivered at the University of Colorado, Boulder

This talk was originally written in response to an invitation from multiple sponsors at Yale University. Versions of this talk were given in 2015 at Northeastern University, and in 2016 at Yale University, New York University, The University of Washington, Seattle, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, and the University of Colorado, Boulder, Harvard University, and Brown University, as well as at Dhamma Patapa Vipassana Center, Georgia.

This talk was recorded at the University of Colorado, Boulder and is meant more as an introductory talk using less technical language with more explanation and requiring no previous biological knowledge.

Paul Fleischman
audio recorded at the University of Colorado, Boulder
Sept. 29, 2016, 59 minutes
PDF download of the talk and the audio talk are available here.

Direct link to the talk –here.

Except from text below:

“The main insight I want to emphasize is that meditation is the systematic cultivation of homeostatic regulation of the mind, body, and emotions.”

“Another way to say all of this is that meditation is the practice of mental and emotional balancing. In silence, your thoughts and feelings rise up, demanding, threatening, or arousing you, but you then re-direct them towards calm and self-possession, practicing the restorative of equanimity.
You exercise and expand your executive function, your ability to modulate
your psyche. You practice self-observation, self-control and self-mastery.
In your mind, various unmet cravings, upsets, losses and grief have caused you suffering, and meditation gives you a way to stop cycling around and around them helplessly. It provides some tools for self-collection.”

“The mind has a substantial but nevertheless limited impact on the body. There are times when you have to fix the body by fixing the body. The reason I am stressing this is because we want to have a meditation that is realistic and honest rather than an inflated over belief.”

“Meditation is always easy and always hard.
It is easy because it is superimposed upon the natural restorative mental and physical functions that make life possible, the maintenance of relative stability.
But it is hard because even the body has to work to find the middle path. All of our coats and heated homes in winter, and all of our AC cars and swimming pools of summer, are creations to help our homeostatic temperature regulators. As we live and age, our self regulation, which is subject to continuous challenge, always fails. We die. So meditation is the effort of consciousness to remain calm, balanced, homeostatic, as all the other homeostatic regulators fail. Meditation is also always a challenge because our minds are not only based on a natural function but also upon a doomed person. We can say that all information systems decay; the signals become lost to noise. We can define death as the loss of vital homeostatic regulation. When we meditate we bask in the warmth of natureʼs core homeostatic basin, and we exert the will of concentration and consciousness to persevere in natureʼs peace even as it departs from our bodies like the Lone Ranger. Meditation can become an extension, stretching into new zones and dimensions, transcending the merely natural.
Meditation is always a challenge because our minds are not only drawn to homeostasis, but they are simultaneously working in the service of adaptive manipulation and acquisition of the outside world. One part of us does not want to relinquish its vigilance and stealth.”

“Vipassana meditation is taught in ten day residential courses so that it starts with reasonable commitment. It is intended to shape lives through deep and meaningful psychological experiences.”

“Vipassana meditation focuses on the experience of the impermanence of the body, with all of its molecules, chemicals, sensations, and mentations. The meditationʼs first goals are acceptance of the reality of impermanence of all our sensations with equanimity and dignity, and the inspiration to pervade the world with a modicum of peace and love. Vipassana can be interpreted as a psychology of the scientific world-view, an adjustment to the galactic cosmos of shifting and unstable things that also gives birth to us.”

“As soon as a person sits down and closes his or her eyes to meditate, a particular psychological frame is activated. External stimuli are cut off.  Demands and intrusions are unplugged. Whatever else the meditator does, he or she has stepped back from active coping, manipulating, and
functioning, and has risen into a realm of psychological adjustment rather
than of instrumental action. The meditator no longer rearranges the three
dimensional world, but, for a time at least, becomes committed to rearranging his or her own psyche. The center of concern becomes adjusting and accepting rather than dominating, organizing , or controlling. This is the psychological, subjective stance within homeostasis. We cope with ourselves. Our t-shirts could say “Thinking and Feeling Homeostatics.

Not all psychic and social threads have been cut. In fact, the meditator joins and participates in traditions, lessons, and skill training. Although externalizing engagements have been shut down, other types of mental life
have actually been augmented”

“Although most meditations define some focus for the mind, that focus will be intermittent, because no one can focus perfectly, and the meditatorʼs own thoughts and feelings, fears and wishes will rise up into consciousness
during the moments when focus wavers. The meditator will become more
self-aware. The pre-conscious mind will emerge front and center. Mental contents that were partly or even fully hidden will be revealed as if they were on a fifty-six inch high definition flat screen.
“Know thyself.” “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
You canʼt be integrated with a person you donʼt know. Meditation leads to an increased unity between the conscious and preconscious mind.”


“If you are doing Vipassana meditation, the focus of your meditation is your  body. Therefore you are integrating your mind and body by observing your body as the focus of your mind. The integrative process that I have described, where you come to terms with your thoughts and learn not to judge them, may also be going on with your body, with its varying sensations, pleasures and pains.”


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